Our trip to Chambal Safari Lodge, Mela Kothi Road, Village Jarar, Agra
We first heard about this wonder in the woods from friends of ours who visited sometime before we did. Even as we were booking ourselves in for the long weekend in the October of 2014, we wondered whether one had to be a die hard naturalist (I confess we aren’t) to be able to truly appreciate what this place has to offer. The hospitality of the Singh family was evident right from the time we made our bookings; they were happy to patiently respond to all our queries and give us directions. We left by road at about 6 am from Gurgaon on the morning of 2nd October, and surprisingly made it in five hours flat.
As we neared the lodge, the meandering village roads flanked by wheat fields on either side made us leave our urban selves happily behind! We were greeted by the super friendly staff and Mr.Singh himself, offered a cooling drink and then shown to our comfortable and tastefully done room, ‘The Barbet’ (each of the rooms is named after a bird species).
It was quite hot for October but the freak showers that evening came as a happy surprise, and made the beautiful property look even more lush and alive. A stroll amidst these lush greens allowed us to further explore their many wonders.
The Mela Kothi (its ancestral name), now known as the Chambal Safari Lodge, is an eco-lodge lovingly restored and re-created by the family’s great grandson, Ram Pratap Singh and his wife Anu Dhillon, both birding enthusiasts and conservationists. The accommodation combines the warmth of local homes with the comfort of modern amenities.
What stood out for us was the striking splendour of a forested property, where nature has been left free to meander her way around ‘naturally’, rather than keeping her tamed and manicured. The accommodation and amenities have been created around the little nooks and crannies of nature’s free spirited meandering, rather than the other way around. This is evident in the diverse species of trees growing next to each other without any imposed order or sequence, some of them full of the harmless and super fascinating fruit bats; and the many glorious bird species, civet cats, wild hares and peacocks seeking refuge on the property itself.
The lodge offers a variety of local, eco-tourism activities for guests to enjoy, both on the property itself and in the neighbouring areas. Right on our first day we were introduced to our eco-tourism guide, Gajendra, an enthusiastic and knowledgeable young man who helped us plan out our itinerary for the next few days of our stay.An evening trip to the Bateshwar temples and boat ride alongside the ghats on our first evening was made enjoyable and full of interesting myths and stories, narrated with much elan by Gajendra.
As we were walking through the ruins, we suddenly looked up to see a most breathtaking sight- a flock of migratory Demoiselle cranes in full flight! What a pattern the birds had formed, and it continued undisturbed throughout their flight. A truly breathtaking sight; one that humbles you into feeling utter awe at the designs, patterns and rhythms of the universe.
We returned that evening feeling like we had taken a dip in a unique confluence of local mythology, history and landscapes, and come out feeling absolutely refreshed.
Ravenously hungry by then, we headed straight for dinner on our return. The meals at the Lodge, thoughtfully prepared and undoubtedly fine tuned over the years, by the chef and hosts, deserve a special mention. Again, true to the spirit of ecologically sustainable tourism, most of the produce is grown on their own farms or procured directly from the local farmers. Never before have I eaten regular vegetables transformed into such artful delicacies!
The river safari the next evening was definitely the biggest highlight of our trip. We set out with Gajendra in our own car (the lodge provides jeeps if you have not driven there, but this needs to be arranged in advance) and reached the Chambal River, having driven through The National Chambal Sanctuary. On our way we spotted some interesting fauna, including a pair of the Indian Striped Hyena. We then parked by the river side and boarded a boat to take us on the river. How calm and gentle the river was! It felt as if time had stopped still and we were in a world of our own. Now and then, Gajendra would gently nudge us and direct our attention to a rare migratory bird on the riverbank, a gharial emerging from the water in all its glory, or, most marvellous of all, a glimpse of the rare River Dolphin.
When we had been gazing on the river for about an hour, we turned back to see that Gajendra had silently conjured up a little tea party on the boat itself, complete with tea cups, quite a few teabag flavours, coffee sachets if you were a coffee and not a tea drinker, and biscuits!
The remainder of our days there was spent taking nature walks around the property itself, bicycle rides along the adjoining wheat fields and reading under the trees. The holiday was a wholesome one- complete with just enough adventure, a taste of the wilderness, good food, and enough time for relaxation and doing your own thing.
What stood out for me about this place was how the hosts have manged to create an experience which gives you a gentle introduction to the wild, yet is tailored seamlessly enough to be comfortable and suited to your every need.
Our top tips for the traveller to the Chambal Safari Lodge:
- Again, this is a holiday for those with an adventurous streak and those seeking to stay close to nature. Be prepared for to wake up to the calls of barbets and the incessant shrieking of the fruit bats (believe me, it is not cacaphonous and manages to blend rhythmically with the sounds of the woods).
- For your safaris, wear fully covered, comfortable clothing and sturdy footwear. This will allow you to navigate wooded paths and hop on and off jeeps and boats with ease. Carry a jacket for evenings and mornings, and hat for the sun.
- We visited in October, which is the start of the season at the lodge, but found it too warm to step out during the day. Perhaps November or March would be the best time to visit. If you are an avid birder, check with them about the best time to visit so as to sync it with the birding season.
- The package allows you to opt for one activity/safari a day. No matter what else you choose, don’t miss the river safari!
As Mr. Singh and his wife aptly describe it on their website, “…The Chambal Safari is a journey through an unexplored, unspoiled, and unforgettable land. A land of myths and legends, rare wildlife and magical landscapes, magnificent ruins and vibrant villages, ancient temples and colourful fairs. But above all, a land of gracious hospitality.”
We couldn’t have described it better.